The Weekend Exodus

The Manchester Guardian published a weekly “Cycling Notes” column for 11 years from 1893-1904. It is a remarkable source for both cycling and motoring in Victorian Manchester; a record of experiences, events and opinion. So interesting and informative are these columns that there could be endless blog posts that jump from its pages. Indeed this particular entry, which is the focus of this blog, was picked at random while attempting to uncover the name so far anonymous journalist who wrote the  “Cycling Notes” column.

The date of the entry is 11 May 1896 and the journalist is reporting his observations after conducting research into the weekend exodus of cyclists from Manchester’s suburbs into the Cheshire countryside. The observations were for 1 hour (2.45pm-3.45pm) at Sale on the Chester Road, and simultaneously at Didsbury on Wilmslow Road. For those not familiar with these locations, I have marked the observation points of the map below.

1948 OS map of Manchester, over 50 after the observations were made, but still a demonstration of the main roads out of Manchester
1948 OS map of Manchester, over 50 after the observations were made, but still a good demonstration of the main roads out of Manchester and the suburban areas cyclists were coming from.

In the hour 1567 riders made up the exodus of cyclists observed leaving or reentering Manchester. Chester Road was the most popular route, with almost double to number of riders observed on Wilmslow Road. The recorders did well to keep up. On Chester Road cyclists were passing at a rate of 17 a minute.

There are several points of interest in this basic study that provide an insight into late Victorian cycling. The first, and most obvious, is the popularity of the pursuit. One wonders what the numbers would be like if the same observations were made today, say at an hour on Sunday morning.  Secondly it is clear that cycling was dominated by male riders, with women making up just 5% of the cycling population. Thirdly, although Manchester had nearly 50 cycling clubs in 1896, only a fifth of the riders were on club runs, with independent cycling clearly more popular. Finally, there were a large number of outward journeys at this seemingly late hour. Nowadays we are used to seeing cyclists leave in the morning on a weekend run. However, in late Victorian Britain it was normal to work on Saturday mornings.

  Chester Road Wilmslow Road Total
Total Riders 1015 552 1567
Women 44 36 80
Club members 157 186 343
Townward bound 38 59 97
Outward bound 1015 498 1513

 

The analysis was more thorough on Chester Road, as the observer noted the social grouping of riders (again you wonder how he managed to keep up!).  The following table shows that the most common grouping was a pair of men, with only a small proportion riding on their own. Notice also that there were only 3 all-female pairs, with many being accompanied by men, or riding in larger family groups. The observer further noted that:

“The ladies, as a class, were, as usual, distinguished from the rest of the crowd by a better general standard of style, both as regards pose and neatness of action.”

 

  Chester Road
Men  
Riding alone 190
Riding in pairs 292
Riding in groups of three 90
Riding in groups of four 68
Larger gatherings or clubs 296
   
Women  
Riding with male companion 10
Riding with female companion 3
Riding with clubs or mixed groups 15

 

This fascinating snapshot of Victorian cycling shows just how popular the weekend cycling exodus was, and how popular Cheshire was as a cycling destination. The Manchester male middle-classes invaded the rural environment, well before the intrusion of the motor car. The numbers flooding down Chester Road can perhaps explain why the columnist remarked that “nowhere in Cheshire are the police and magistrates more hostile to cyclists than in Altrincham [On Chester Road!].”

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